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An Introduction to Polynesian Anthropology



The Mangareva Islands, or Iles Gambier, are volcanic islands which lie at the eastern end of the Tuamotu Archipelago about 900 miles from Tahiti. The inhabited islands comprise Mangareva, Taravai, Aukena, and Akamaru, with some smaller islands which are surrounded by an outer coral reef through which there are three deep passages. On the bounding reef there are a number page 82of coral islets. Short valleys on the main islands have fertile soil capable of growing cultivated plants.

Native traditions indicate that the earliest settlers filtered through from the Tuamotus. According to the recorded genealogies, a voyager named Tupa arrived from Iva in about the year 1300 A.D. and introduced the breadfruit, coconut, and other trees. He also introduced the worship of the god Tu and the building of maraes. He probably came from the Marquesas, to which he returned. Bananas, sweet potatoes, taros, and yams were also introduced, and as they do not grow in the neighboring Tuamotu atolls, they were probably introduced from the Marquesas, as was the paper mulberry, for clothing. The staple food of the islands is fermented breadfruit. The pig was present in the past, for it appears as a historical memory, but neither the dog nor the fowl was present. In the course of time, canoes were succeeded by rafts, both for fishing and inter-island transport. The social organization and religion had affinities with central Polynesia, but local variations developed.

The European discoverer was Captain Wilson in the missionary ship Duff in 1797, but the first to land and give a good account of the people was Captain F. W. Beechey in H.M.S. Blossom in 1825. Moerenhout visited the islands and gave an account which is mixed with Tahitian material. Dumont d'Urville called in 1838, but changes had already occurred through missionary teaching. P. A. Lesson who accompanied Dumont d'Urville also wrote about the islands.

The first settlers were the Roman Catholic missionaries Père Honoré Laval and Père Francoise d'Assise Caret of the Congregation of the Sacred Heart (Picpus) in 1834. They reduced the language to writing and encouraged the natives to record their history and customs in a native manuscript which has proved of great value. Laval wrote a manuscript based on the native history. After remaining for years in the archives of the Congregation, it was published in French in 1938 with the financial assistance of Bishop Museum. The French missionaries also published a grammar and dictionary on the language. Caret's letters from the islands were published in the Annals of the Association for the Propagation of the Faith.

Caillot wrote on eastern Polynesia but his Mangarevan material, based on the native manuscript, is misleading through faulty translation. Edward Tregear also published a Mangarevan dictionary from material supplied by the French missionaries. The Routledge Expedition visited Mangareva and procured a copy of the native manuscript, but nothing eventuated in the way of publications.

As ethnologists on the Bishop Museum Mangarevan Expedition, Kenneth P. Emory and I visited the group in 1934, and our manuscripts on the ethnology and archaeology of Mangareva were published by the Museum. Harry L. Shapiro visited the group with the second Zaca Expedition and took physical measurements, which await study.

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Literature on Mangareva

Early Voyagers
  • Wilson (1796-1798)
  • Beechey (1825- 1828)
  • Moeren Hout (1828-1834)
  • Dumont D'urville (1837-1840)
Other Writers

Annales de la propagation de la foi, Lyon, 1835—.

Caillot, A. C. E., Histoire de la Polynésie orientale, Paris, 1910.

Caret, Francoise-d'Assise, Lettres: lles Gambier: Annales de la propagation de la foi, 9, pp. 14-19 (Oct. 6, 1834), pp. 33-42 (Dec. 31, 1834), pp. 42-56 (Jan. 26, 1835).

Couteaud, P., Anthropologie et alimentation: La Presse Medicale, no. 80, Paris, 1911.

Cuzent, Gilbert, Voyage aux Iles Gambier, Paris, 1872.

Essai de grammaire de la langue des lles Gambier au Mangaréva … et dictionnaire Mangaréviens, Braine-le-Comte, 1908.

Laval, HonorÉ, Mangareva, l'histoire ancienne d'un peuple Polynésien, Braine-le-Comte, 1938.

Lesson, P. A., Voyage aux Iles Mangareva, Rochefort, 1844.

Te Rangi Hiroa (P. H. Buck), Mangarevan images: Ethnologia Cranmorensis, no. 4, pp. 12-19, 1939.

Tregear, E., A dictionary of Mangareva, Wellington, 1899.

Bishop Museum Publications

Emory, K. P., Archaeology of Mangareva and neighboring atolls, Bull. 163, 1939.

Te Rangi Hiroa (P. H. Buck), Ethnology of Mangareva, Bull. 157, 1938.